Having looked at a rough overview of the history of the debate as well as the major Calvinistic passages in previous weeks, we now turn our attention to the major Arminian passages.
Not only are these critical to establishing the Arminian position, they are frequently used to try to argue against the passages that we have previously looked at. You’ll hear people say things like “that can’t be true because 1 Timothy 2:4 says…”
Unfortunately, the verses that we will look at are just that, individual verses. We will look at them in their context, but the verses that Arminians use to support their position are just isolated verses. There are no lengthy passages on the topic of God’s role in Salvation that support Arminian theology. The Calvinists have passages. The Arminians have verses.
Today, we look at one of the most frequently quoted of those verses, 1 Timothy 2:4.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4
The Arminian assertion is that because verse four says that God wants “all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth,” human beings must have the final say in salvation. If God wants to save everyone, surely he wouldn’t choose to just save a few.
Usually, the debate focuses on the word “all” in verse four. And, of course, there are two very different interpretations of this passage based on how you take that word, one seemingly supporting Arminianism and one supporting Calvinism. My assertion is going to be that even the interpretation that at first seems to support Arminiansm actually supports Calvinism, but before we get there, I want to at least make sure you understand the traditional Calvinistic interpretation.
The basic idea is that the word “all” doesn’t necessarily mean “every single human that is living or has ever or will ever live,” it can mean “all kinds.”
Now, before you object that I’m resorting to some kind of ridiculous special pleading to get around the plain meaning of the text, let’s flip forward a page or so to see another example of how this particular word is used in this letter:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
1 Timothy 6:10
Now, here we have one of the most famous verses in the Bible. Even most non Christians (sort of) know this one. Chances are at some point you’ve had to correct someone who misquoted this verse. In popular culture, this verse usually gets rendered “money is the root of all evil.” In this situations, no doubt you have pointed out that it is not money, but the love of money that the Bible condemns, and you might have even added that the verse says “all kinds of evil,” not “all evil.”
Well, actually, the word “kinds” is not there in the Greek text. Most translators add that word because they feel it is strongly implied by the word “all.” Since it’s pretty obvious that the love of money had nothing to do with the first sin and it has nothing to do with most sexual sin, the love of money pretty obviously isn’t the root of “all evil.” Since “all kinds” is an appropriate meaning of the word “all,” most translations say “all kinds” here instead of all.
“All” can refer to types or kinds, you need to carefully consider the context to determine whether or not it does.
In 1 Timothy 2:4, Paul might be reminding Timothy that God wants people of all types and kinds to be save, even kings and all who are in authority.
It could also mean that God wants the gospel to go to every tribe nation and tongue, and so we need to pray for world leaders that they would not be hostile to Christianity and oppress and arrest the Christians trying to proclaim the Gospel in their nation. This seems to me to be the most natural reading of the text. The text starts by urging Timothy to pray for world leaders, and the reason that is given is so that believers won’t have problems with the government. Then, you get verse three and four saying that the reason Christians living in harmony with the government pleases God is because God wants “all” people to “come to a knowledge of the truth.” The most likely reason for Paul to bring that particular desire of God up when he does is to imply that Christians living in peace with the government allows the gospel to go out freely to people that God wants to save.
There is also the fact that Paul uses this exact same phrase (in Greek) come “to a knowledge of the truth” once more, and its usage is unambiguously Calvinistic:
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth
2 Timothy 2:24-25
There is the same phrase, “to a knowledge of the truth,” but here it is mentioned that God is the one who grants repentance that leads to a knowledge of the truth. Our job is to kindly instruct, God’s job is to grant the repentance that leads to a knowledge of the truth.
Again, same author, writing to the same recipient, using the exact same phrase.
However, maybe you think that the word “all” in 1 Timothy 2:4 really does mean every single person who has ever lived or will ever live.
Let’s work through the implications of that for a second, because it is just as problematic for Arminians as it is for Calvinists.
The obvious question that we need to ask is if God wants every single person to be saved in the exact same way, why does anyone perish?
This question seems to be what made Rob Bell start to drift from Armininism to Universalism, the heretical belief that eventually everyone will be saved. He questioned why we say “God is great” but don’t seem to believe it when it comes to the task of securing salvation for the entire human race. Doesn’t God get what God wants?
Now, it’s beyond the scope of this post, but the Bible does not teach Universalism. Those who fail to repent and trust Jesus will tragically perish.
But the question remains, why isn’t Universalism true if God wants to save everyone? Both Arminians and Calvinists need to answer this question.
In other words, even if the traditional Arminian interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:4 is used, it doesn’t support Arminianism any more than it refutes Calvinism. On the surface it most closely supports Universalism.
So how does each side awnser the question of why God doesn’t save everyone? Surprisingly, on a basic level, Calvinists and Arminians answer the question the same way: God doesn’t save everyone because he wants something else more.
This is a fair enough approach, 1 Timothy 2:4 just gives us a simple statement about God’s desire, not a ranked list of all his preferences.
Of course, what exactly God wants more is where the two sides disagree.
The Arminian will most likely say that God wants to preserve the free will of human beings. That in order for love to be love, it needs to be freely chosen by us.
That’s a lovely sentiment, but it isn’t found anywhere in the Bible. It’s a completely eisegetical interpretation that reads a theology into the text.
The Calvinist on the other hand, asserts that what God wants more than the salvation of all is his own glory.
Now, at this point, I could cite a very long list of passages to support my point, but I admit that I would just be borrowing from the work of John Piper who has helpfully compiled a list of verses that demonstrate God’s zeal for his own glory, so I’ll let him lay them out for those who are interested: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/biblical-texts-to-show-gods-zeal-for-his-own-glory
The one verse that I will mention, and perhaps the most crucial for the question we are addressing, is one that we saw a few weeks ago:
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
God desires to show his wrath and to make known his power. God will be glorified in bringing justice to many sinners, and God will be glorified by showing mercy to many sinners. God will display the fullness of his attributes and the justice he gives to some will highlight the mercy that he gives to others.
The Calvinist answer is to why God doesn’t save everyone is solidly, thoroughly, totally Biblical. The Arminian answer is unbiblical and must be read into the text.
Even if Arminians were right that “all” in 1 Timothy 2:4 means everyone who has ever lived, the verse still teaches Calvinism.
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